Michail Antonio injury could seriously harm West Ham’s Champions League push

Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Ham United Premie e2e32882c8262844c479c9bb5a9c7831
Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Ham United Premie e2e32882c8262844c479c9bb5a9c7831

Cast your mind back to last summer and you'll recall everything wasn't exactly rosy in the West Ham garden.

They'd only just retained their Premier League status, the fan approval rating of David Moyes was hardly through the roof despite leading the club to safety, they were stuck with misfiring, big-money signing Sebastien Haller and the sale of Grady Diangana saw even captain Mark Noble publicly lambast the club.

As captain of this football club I’m gutted, angry and sad that Grady has left, great kid with a great future!!!!!

— MARK NOBLE (@Noble16Mark) September 4, 2020

How times have changed.

Since then, the Hammers have barely put a foot wrong. Their transfer business has been superb, with Tomas Soucek (who was initially on loan at the club), Vladimir Coufal, Jesse Lingard and Craig Dawson all excelling, having either signed permanent or temporary deals, Moyes' managerial nous has them in with a shot of a top four finish and they've even managed to recoup £20m on Haller!

However, just as the season enters the home straight, could the wheels be about to fall off the West Ham bandwagon?

Moyes' side were dealt a huge blow following the news star midfielder Declan Rice faces a month on the sidelines with a knee injury, and to make matters worse it's now been confirmed Michail Antonio will be keeping the England man company in the treatment room.

The frontman hobbled off during West Ham's enthralling 3-2 win over Wolves on Monday night, with subsequent scans revealing he's set to miss between 4-6 weeks of action and may not feature again this campaign.

Michail Antonio was forced to hobble off against Wolves | Michael Regan/Getty Images

While there's never a good time for a club to be without their main striker, the loss of Antonio could not have come at worse time for West Ham.

It's not even because the frontman takes with him a bucket load of goals that have propelled the Hammers to within touching distance of Europe's premier competition – with just seven in 21 outings he's hardly what you'd call prolific – but his all-round game is something that West Ham simply don't have a replacement for.

Moyes's side's success this campaign has been built on a solid defensive base, but their pace and direct approach going forward is what sets them apart from the sides who've just done enough to eek out the occasional good result.

Antonio is central to their attacking play; providing pace in the channels so to alleviate pressure for his team and possessing the ability to keep hold of the ball and bring the likes of Lingard, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen into play.

Jarrod Bowen was tasked with replacing Michail Antonio on Monday night

Jarrod Bowen was tasked with replacing Michail Antonio on Monday night | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

The latter of the aforementioned trio replaced the injured Antonio at Molineux earlier this week, and while he ultimately bagged the winning goal of the evening, West Ham had to adapt their style of play and very nearly threw away what had looked like being a comfortable victory.

Without Antonio at the top end of the pitch to protect the ball and afford his side a moment to catch their breath, Wolves' momentum continued to build and they were left hanging onto the three points.

The fact that the injury has come while Rice is also absent from the matchday squad is an even bigger blow to Moyes' Champions League aspirations.

Both players are leaders and senior figures within the West Ham dressing room and, similarly to Antonio, Rice's ability to pick his head up and carry the ball helps drag the Hammers up the field so to avoid camping in their own half and inviting pressure.

While a midfielder of Rice's ability is always going to be a miss for West Ham, the simple fact of the matter is Moyes can probably just about scrape by with a midfielder who can play a similar role – if not to the same level as the England man.

David Moyes will be forced to shuffle his pack over the coming weeks
David Moyes will be forced to shuffle his pack over the coming weeks | Pool/Getty Images

West Ham simply don't have an Antonio plan B – he is the plan.

Of all the teams in the hunt for a top four spot, the Hammers' run-in actually seems pretty favourable on paper, with winnable games against Newcastle, Brighton, Burnley, West Brom and Southampton to come.

But without their main man up front, they're going to be forced to adapt the style of play that's gleaned so much success this season and that could have a hugely adverse affect on their performances.

Original Article

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